Safety board: Undiagnosed sleep apnea involved in two NY train crashes


Sleep apnea was involved in two separate New York-area train crashes over the past year, prompting federal investigators to examine the cases in tandem as the issue of undiagnosed sleep disorders gains more national attention.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said Thursday that the engineer in a deadly New Jersey Transit crash and the operator of a Long Island Rail Road crash both suffered from severe sleep apnea, but were unaware they had the condition. Neither engineer remembers the incident, according to documents released Thursday.


Although the NTSB has not yet determined the cause of the crashes or issued recommendations, the safety board plans to release a single investigative report on the incidents given their similar circumstances.

The latest NTSB documents come amid increasing concern over the role of undiagnosed sleep disorders in fatal transit crashes. Sleep apnea was linked to a 2013 Metro-North derailment in New York and a deadly 2000 tractor-trailer crash in Tennessee.

The condition causes a person’s airways to close and stops their breathing during sleep, leading to potentially dangerous daytime drowsiness.

The Trump administration faced backlash earlier this summer when it made a controversial decision to scrap Obama-era plans to require that all truck, train and bus operators be screened for sleep apnea.

The engineer in last year’s New Jersey Transit crash said the last thing he remembered was pulling into the Hoboken station and checking his watch. NTSB documents show the train accelerated from 8 miles an hour to 21 mph just before slamming into the platform, killing one woman and injuring 110 others.

The Long Island Rail Road engineer also says he does not remember hitting the end of a track in Brooklyn, N.Y., earlier this year, which injured 108 people.

“I remember coming into the platform, and then honestly that’s all I can recall,” he told investigators.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) said he plans to introduce legislation in the coming days that would expand sleep apnea testing and treatment requirements for operators.

“These revelations underscore just how shortsighted and reckless the Trump Administration’s recent decision was to roll back common sense steps to keep commuters, train operators, and trucker drivers safe,” Booker said in a statement.

“It’s imperative that we take immediate steps to strengthen rail safety standards, and sleep apnea testing is a common sense safety measure that could prevent crashes and save lives.”

Updated: 3:15 p.m.

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